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Health Care Updates: Democrats, Republicans Respond To CBO Score

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Ahead of the critical final vote on health care reform, Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives know that the bill's passage likely hinges on the ability to convince members who voted 'no' on health care reform last November to switch their positions.
 
Earlier this week Congress-watchers believed that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was somewhere between five and ten votes shy of the 216 she needs to get health care through. On Thursday, however, her prospects brightened. A Congressional Budget Office report showed that the legislation will save $138 billion in the next decade while expanding coverage to 32 million uninsured.

The new details about the bill spurred several fence-sitting lawmakers -- including two members of Congress who opposed health care reform last year -- to announce they would switch their votes.

Here is an updated list of the current vote count provided by The Hill.
 
On Thursday the Denver Post reported that Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Col.) would support the bill after having been one of 39 House members who opposed it this fall.
 
Markey was elected in 2008 in a district that was carried by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), so her decision to back the legislation reflected a warming to the bill on the part of conservative Democrats.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), a Blue Dog Democrat who is not running for re-election in 2010, announced that he too would support the bill after opposing it earlier.  
 

"In November, I said I hoped the Senate and House could work out the difference and produce a bill I could support - one that takes responsible steps to make health care more affordable for our economy and for our families and small businesses. If I and each of my 534 colleagues in Congress had been able to write our own health reform packages, we would be looking at 535 different bills today. In the end, the question I'm faced with is this: will this reform be better for Middle Tennessee than the status quo? I think it will. That's why I believe passing meaningful health care reform is essential and why I have made my decision to help ensure health care is affordable for Middle Tennesseans today and for generations to come."

Gordon's home state colleague, Rep. John Tanner, is another "no" vote who is retiring and may switch to "yes." Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) is the other remaining congressman in a similar situation.

Top Democrats have been contacting (and likely arm-twisting) wavering lawmakers for days, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Thursday afternoon that President Obama has "talked to more than three dozen lawmakers by meeting or phone since Monday."

Indeed, the president has even reached out to the one Republican lawmaker who supported health care reform last October, Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, (R-La.), to get him to reconsider his decision to now oppose the bill.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported:

"He's asked if I would restudy the Senate language and that I would approach it with an open mind. And I promised that I would go back and study the Senate language again," Cao said after meeting with Obama in the Oval Office for about 10 minutes Wednesday. [...]

"He fully understands where I stand on abortion, and he doesn't want me to vote against my conscience because he, like me, believes that if we were to vote against our conscience, our moral values, there is really nothing left for us to defend," Cao said. "I'm glad that the president is very understanding. He really shows his own moral character."

"He did not whip me on the vote," he said.

 
SOME EARLIER HEALTH CARE UPDATES:

6:18 PM ET: Rep. Bobby Rush goes from "yes" to "no" to "undecided." Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush can't make up his mind about health care reform.

A Rush spokeswoman told one HuffPost reporter that Rush plans to vote "no" because he is unhappy that a discount program that reimburses hospitals for taking care of the indigent and poor was removed from the final version of the bill. She said the office was waiting for his signal to release a statement of opposition.

But at the same time, Rush himself told a different HuffPost reporter that he was undecided. "I think we're working it out," he told Ryan Grim.

President Obama unsuccessfully ran for Rush's seat in 2000. Hard feelings?

-- ARTHUR DELANEY

4:10 PM ET: Retiring Blue Dog in the "yes" column CNN is reporting that Rep. Bart Gordon, a Blue Dog Democrat from Tennessee who is not running for re-election in 2010, will support the bill.

The Tennessee Democrat voted against the bill when it first was considered by the House. The dropping of a public option, coupled with the absence of electoral pressures appears to have played a role. Gordon's office released the following statement:

"In November, I said I hoped the Senate and House could work out the difference and produce a bill I could support - one that takes responsible steps to make health care more affordable for our economy and for our families and small businesses. If I and each of my 534 colleagues in Congress had been able to write our own health reform packages, we would be looking at 535 different bills today. In the end, the question I'm faced with is this: will this reform be better for Middle Tennessee than the status quo? I think it will. That's why I believe passing meaningful health care reform is essential and why I have made my decision to help ensure health care is affordable for Middle Tennesseans today and for generations to come."

Gordon's home state colleague, Rep. John Tanner, is another "no" vote who is retiring and may switch to "yes." Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) is the other remaining congressman in a similar situation.

--SAM STEIN AND RYAN GRIM


4:05 PM ET: Civil rights group endorses bill.
Early on Thursday the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights organization, came out formally against the Senate's health care bill, citing disapproval with its immigration provisions.

Hours later, another leading civil rights group, The League of United Latin American Citizens, chose the opposite path -- offering a full-throated endorsement of the legislation urging prompt passage and, in the process, giving Hispanic lawmakers a bit of cover.

"Health care is not a privilege, it is a right," said LULAC National President Rosa Rosales. "While this is not a perfect bill that contains everything we would like, it is an important step. This reform will extend coverage to over 31 million Americans who do not get health care today and helping 9 million Latinos access and reduce costs. It is time to act. Our Latino families cannot afford to wait any longer."

3:55 PM ET: Not all news is good news for Democrats. Rep. Steve Lynch (D-Mass.), who voted for the health care bill in the House the first go around, announced officially that he would oppose the bill.

The Massachusetts Democrat said the failure of the bill to control costs, and the process by which it was being passed, were too difficult for him to support. He had been pressured to vote "yes" by the White House, congressional leaders, and even former Senator Ted Kennedy's wife Vicki.

"We've paid the ransom, but at the end of the day the insurance companies are still holding the hostages," Lynch said in an interview with the Boston Globe. "This is a very good bill for insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. It might be good for Nebraska, I don't know. Or Florida residents...But it's not good for the average American, and it's not good for my district. Or for Massachusetts."

3:45 PM ET: National Catholic Reporter endorses bill. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs sent out a tweet Thursday afternoon highlighting an endorsement for the health care bill by the National Catholic Reporter, a leading religious newspaper.

"Congress, and its Catholics, should say yes to health care reform," the editorial summary reads. "We do not reach this conclusion as easily as one might think. There are, to be sure, grave problems with the bill the House will consider in the next few days. Nonetheless, the choice Congress faces is between the status quo and change -- and the current bill is a profoundly preferable step in the direction of positive change."

Gibbs would have done just as well sending the article to Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). The overarching message, undoubtedly, is meant for the anti-abortion Democrats who are still holding out on supporting the legislation.

--SAM STEIN

3:40 PM ET: Michigan Democrat comes out for reform. Another fence-sitting Democratic lawmaker has announced that he will support health care legislation, citing the need for reform and, particularly, deficit reduction.

Rep. Mark Schauer (D-Mich) announced on Thursday that he would back the bill. He had been a "yes" vote the first go-around. But Republicans had targeted him and other vulnerable freshman Democrats as potential swing votes against the legislation.

"I will vote for the bill," Schauer told MSNBC. "I wasn't called into the White House or pressured by leadership. It's a very simple decision. We either continue the status quo where health insurance companies... will guarantee they will increase premiums by double digits on working families and business every year or we can fix our broken health care system."

--SAM STEIN

3:20 PM ET: Another "yes" vote. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) who had objected to the restrictive immigration provisions in the Senate bill, has officially said he will vote "yes." He changed his position a number of times during the course of the health care debate.


2:30 PM ET: Biden is optimistic.
Vice President Biden expressed confidence about the future of the health care reform in an interview with ABC News, but acknowledged that he still had more work to do in order to convince uncertain Blue Dog Democrats to vote for health care reform.

"I'm gonna be in that cabin," calling Representatives, Biden told ABC's Jake Tapper aboard Air Force Two en route to North Carolina Thursday morning.

Biden said that things were looking good on the health care front. "I feel optimistic about it, I really do," Biden told Tapper. "We got a great number back from the Congressional Budget Office," which is gonna help "all those Blue Dogs" make up their minds.

--NICK WING

1:45 PM ET: Clyburn weighs in.
Since the House last passed legislation in November, three Democrats who opposed it -- John Tanner and Bart Gordon of Tennessee and Brian Baird of Washington -- have announced their retirements, relieving them of some political pressure to oppose the bill.

HuffPost asked Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) if he was tailoring his message to those retirees. "I don't have any special message for anybody," said Clyburn. "Your retirement shouldn't have anything to do with this."

Clyburn was asked if he thought Luis Gutierrez (D-Il) would vote against the bill if he were the deciding vote. Clyburn laughed. "No," he said. "No, I don't think so."

--RYAN GRIM

Earlier Developments:

*Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), who voted "yes" on the health care reform bill in November, announced on Wednesday that she will vote for the bill again, despite problems she has with the legislation.

* Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio), while still officially undecided, said in a statement on Thursday that he is expecting to vote yes. He voted in favor of the bill during the previous House vote in November.

* Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), previously a firm no on the vote, announced on Wednesday that he is "reluctant to draw a line in the sand," and is currently undecided.

* Rep. Mike Arcuri (D-N.Y.) had been a yes vote for health care reform the first time around. On Thursday, however, the sophomore member told his fellow Democrats that he will vote against the bill.

* Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), who hinted he might oppose the bill over Medicaid reimbursement rates, has indicated that he will end up supporting the legislation. He was a "yes" vote the first time around.

* Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who was a firm no vote on the legislation just days earlier, announced on Wednesday that he will support the bill. He was previously a no vote.

* Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) has switched his yes vote to no, citing a watering down of the abortion language in the final measure.

* Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Cali.), remains undecided on health care reform. He previously had supported the legislation and, specifically, the tough abortion language championed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). Now on the fence, he has become a prime target for both sides of the aisle. The National Republican Congressional Committee took out an ad on Thursday, hitting the congressman for "rubber-stamping Nancy Pelosi's reckless agenda."

Ryan Grim contributed reporting to this post.

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